I gave myself time to think about going long in Florida and now my head is filled with visions of the Arizona meet. Jonny and I were recounting the flight in between at least fifty margaritas last week and the new impressive fact is the odometer vs. number of breakdowns on our gliders. We both came to AZ to have our very next flight after the Florida record. Well Jonny broke down his glider only once - at the end of this meet. I decked it on Saturday so I had to tear down one more time than him. So after 460 km on the big flight and almost exactly 700 km during last week's comp (1160), I have broken down three times and the Aussie twice. Good for wear and tear on the wings!
Well, although I may have seemed like I didn't care, I really was concerned about how my comp was going to work out...to the point of dreaming about it. I went away after the last day feeling like it just couldn't have gone any better. I wish I could go to a meet that gave such a spectrum of conditions with zero concern for safety and such perfect tasks. Besides Saturday, I would say every task was a very stimulating blend of racing, scratching, relaxing, and views. Not to stroke my inner task setter here - it was without a doubt all luck but wasn't it great?
Back to the Florida flight, I gave Davis my patchwork tracklogs from the dying 5030 and it seems that it was just a data mess. Maybe I will hear more later about that. It was out of character for me to commit to such an undertaking with not one second of forethought or any preparation. As Jonny mentioned, he simply strolled up the Quest clubhouse stairs to see if he could pressure me into going along with him on his record attempt. I must have sounded way less than enthusiastic because he simply walked out, stepped on a dolley, and flew away without me. After replaying my answer to him back in my head, it occurred to me that I sounded like some old, worn out has been. And he was hung over from the night before while I was fresh as ever. So in the end it was not his pressure but mine that got me. I ran out, turned on the vario which was reading less than half battery, and turned on my borrowed radio - wait - it was already turned on. Since the day before. Sweet, that will just take a little more time to borrow another radio while Jonny races off without me. I basically layed on the dolley and was off circling in lift about 7 or 8 minutes after sitting around having cereal in my underwear.
There was nothing remarkable during the flight except how the miles seemed to tick off. In the end it felt like we had done a 100 miler on a normal day. But I must stop now and take the little credit that is mine for that day - there was a low spot, well there were two hairy low spots, but during the second and final one, in a really nasty climb, Jonny begins speaking of landing. Not just landing down the road. Or in a while. But landing. Right now, this field, let's go. Honestly, after sampling the low level air I was tempted to agree, but I thought maybe it would be a little more turbulent than I had counted on when I jumped in my harness that morning so I said 'hey, let's just hit base and think about it'. After saying that a few times, he seemed to warm up to it and we were off to the races again.
Now it was amazing how close we had stayed to that point, but the next 200 miles were spooky. No matter what we did, we ended up tip to tip minutes later. I would take a shitty line, lose a solid grand on Jonny, and we would then take two separate climbs at the next cloud which would put us at base - same time, same place. Ah, but that won't keep happening. That's what I thought every time until we were on final.
And it's the final that made it all worthwhile. Most flights end in a whimper of weak air and slow climbs as you race the sun to the ground. Our epic only turned epic during the last 60 kms. The sea breeze, in fact the sea itself was in sight all day just off our right wings. It was only at around 240 miles that it pinched us up against the huge fire we had been surfing all day. Just as we hit base at the beginning of the most incredible cloud street, the sea breeze pushed under us, spawning little scud clouds way under us and to our side. Now the lift became very good and we basically had to run full speed at base to stay in front of the forming scud. As I looked back on our last climb, I could see that the sea breeze had a bit of an angle so it was zippering behind us and to top it off it was zipping up at about our top glide speed. This was all beyond me at the time, I was just in the moment, dipping one wing into tiny rotor looking clouds on my right one second, then into the crisp smoke boundary on our left the next. We glided. And glided. I'm pretty sure we just kept on gliding.
At some point, it wasn't clear exactly when due to the smoke, the clouds ended and we found ourselves high in the blue, but bathed in thick white smoke. Visibility was not happening and thermals were over. I thought. Actually my vario had quit around 150 miles and had only been able to turn on for about 30 seconds at the beginning of each climb to help me get friendly with the core before it decided it would take another nap. Now, 260 out, I am 100 feet over Jonny out of desparation since the vario couldn't be troubled even to turn on for me. The air was so smooth that I nearly missed it when Jonny started a turn under me. I guess we're climbing. He claims it was 150 fpm but I will never know. He grew weary of it and continued our now crosswind glide to the close highway. That was the one, by the way. The 300 mile thermal. We had a 25 mph tailwind by now and that was the 265 mark. But it would have meant a farm landing rather than a highway landing and I wasn't going to say a word, considering my vario was dead and couldn't give a location, and anyway my phone was too so who cares if I had my location!
Well Jonny comes over the headset saying we need to do a couple opposing wingovers over Chris's car when we finish. We were still so close I could hardly lift my finger to press the ptt or I would slide into him. How cool is that after 280 miles? So our baked brains both agreed and we whipped into two huge arcs away from each other right over the car and I'm pretty sure we both realized at around the same time that when our 270 degree heading changes came together we would smack helmets so Jonny, let's go ahead and do another opposing set I thought. He had the same thought and I'm sure we were both shaking our heads the last few seconds in the air. The field was that uphill into the wind, dreamy sort of place that only the lucky pilots get to land in after a long day. We touched down about 5 seconds and a wingspan apart and savored the Georgia air. Actually it smelled of South Carolina a bit.
Chris Smith was there when we landed, not to mention his in flight entertainment. When he was bored we got to sample a little rap over the air, a little pop here and there. As we crossed more or less into the bible belt, we sampled a minute or so of evangelist opinion as he held the mic to the radio, followed by some more relaxing R&B further down the line. There is really no way to convey the impact of the kind of flight we had. I don't mean the distance, I am referring to the sort of endless team flying that branded the day. It was absolutely incredible and I am well aware that it will probably never happen again quite like that.